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Design heuristics to consider when transitioning across ePortfolio systems (Mahara vs PebblePad): Wins, losses and reflections


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In recently changing universities the author has had to transition from being a regular Mahara user to now being a regular PebblePad user. In making this transition there have been a number of insights gained as to the affordances, or otherwise, of each of these systems. This presentation will attempt to offer an unbiased view of each system, from the users’ perspective, with a view to providing advice and guidance as to the different approaches required for each system. However, as an experienced user of an ePortfolio, the author, in making this transition, has developed a suite of design heuristics that can be adopted for use by other users’ (of either system), as a way to generate, promote and maintain a significant public profile.

Associated peer reviewed paper: Sankey, M. (2018) Design heuristics to consider when transitioning across ePortfolio systems (Mahara to PebblePad): Wins, losses and reflections. 2018 Eportfolio Forum: Exploring, Experiencing, Engaging, Energising, Expanding. PP. 33-41. 9-10 October. Griffith University, Brisbane.

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Design heuristics to consider when transitioning across ePortfolio systems (Mahara vs PebblePad): Wins, losses and reflections

  1. 1. Design heuristics to consider when transitioning across ePortfolio systems (Mahara vs PebblePad): Wins, losses and reflections Professor Michael Sankey Learning Futures
  2. 2. Introduction  Since 2003 the notion of an online professional learning profile (PLP), has supported my academic practice  This pre-dates ePortfolio tools and most social media sites  Based in the need to have a PLP accessible & shareable to the academic community michael_sankey
  3. 3. Circa 2003  It had to link me to a recognised academic institution, to align me with a trusted brand  I believed that through presenting myself professionally online and celebrating my achievements, new opportunities could come my way michael_sankey
  4. 4. michael_sankey
  5. 5. Circa 2007 michael_sankey
  6. 6. michael_sankey • The early iterations of this ePortfolio were a series of hand coded in HTML pages hosted on a USQ web server • Allowing the site to have a university URL, one that linking visitors back to the institution • This saw many iterations over the years, particularly with the advent of Dreamweaver, allowing more stylish editing • Until the advent of a more formal ePortfolio solution was available
  7. 7. Early days in Mahara  In late 2009 USQ implemented Mahara and within 4 years had 14,450 users (currently 35,577)  I took this opportunity to implement a higher-level strategy in relation to my PLP  It defined the roles different professional and social media sites would play in the PLP  The ePortfolio was to play an important mediating role across these tools whilst also linking back to the institution I work in michael_sankey
  8. 8. Social Media sites timeline  Increasing the integration of social media as the tools became available  LinkedIn 2002  WordPress 2003  Facebook 2004  Twitter 2006  SlideShare 2006  and ResearchGate 2008  Instagram 2010 michael_sankey  But in moving Uni’s I found that not all ePortfolios tools are created equal and that each system has their own unique idiosyncrasies
  9. 9. CRITERIA PebblePad Mahara Security Various options for secure login and access Various options for secure login and access Integration of Social Media It is possible to embed some things into a portfolio. Allows feeds from popular social media sites extendable by using Embedly Integration with LMS Stand-alone OR integrated with Blackboard, D2L, Canvas and Moodle Stand-alone integrated through LTI PD /Training required Training required for staff and students. user manual and help videos Training required. Comprehensive user manual and many help videos online Support Support allocated for org’s; Existing resources available via Help Centre Sydney based support from Catalyst Exportable/Transferrable Allows users to export as PDF only Exportable to HTML package SaaS (locally?) OR ATLAS Software as a service only by PebblePad Self-hosted or SAaS through Sydney based Catalyst datacentre Storage Local data hosting per region (e.g. Aust) Full file repository. Limit set by institution Upload formats Allows most standard formats Allows all standard formats Lifetime access Users transfer content to a free personal account when graduating (while institution is subscribed) Depending on university policy. Otherwise transferable to MyEportfolio, which is free Credentialing capabilities Integrated with Credly and Open Badge Passport Open Badge Factory plug-in Reporting and analytics Reports on progress. Basic statistics available via Pebble+ and ATLAS Admin interfaces Integratable with Google analytics and feeds for dashboards Archiving Options available Options available Allows for group work Options available Options available Allows for custom APIs At a cost Yes. No charge unless help required from Catalyst
  10. 10. Whichever tool I used, my PLP needed to:  Provide responsive mobile friendly access  Allow media elements to be embedded and played  Host supporting resources  Link to external bodies of information (evidence) to support my claims  Be visually attractive and easily navigable  Serve multiple purposes, as a; perpetual online CV, record of my research, gateway to other elements of practice, provide a collation point for blogs and posts, and a distribution point to social media platforms and research sites, and  Receive syndicated information (feeds) from other sites (Twitter, WordPress, ePrints, etc). michael_sankey
  11. 11. How they compared Mahara PebblePad A more complex tool to learn, mainly due to the amount of functionality it affords An easier tool to use straight out of the box, but primarily as it has fewer editing features The wysiwyg editor has plenty of options allowing tables within a design and the nuanced imbedding of images & wrapping Design limitations work in its favor, as the pages are cleaner and more mobile friendly (responsive). Good drag & drop. The layouts are highly customizable, as are the design templates and colour schemes Restricting the use of tables is annoying but understandable (becoming more common) The URL for pages is customizable to a point, allowing for a greater personalization Can’t imbed images into text or hyperlink is a frustration, but does aid responsiveness Some pages are not as user friendly on a mobile devise as they could be It’s unable to accept external feeds from tools, such as Twitter and WordPress Allow the display of syndicated information from other sites, through RSS or Atom feeds. No ability to customize the URLs, leaving the user with cumbersome and unintuitive URLs
  12. 12. michael_sankey
  13. 13. Heuristic 1  An academic PLP should be able to support the three main elements of academic practice; teaching, research and service. Although, a PLP is not a promotion application, the layout of the site and the naming of its tabs, or pages, should make it obvious where much of this information can be found. michael_sankey
  14. 14. Heuristic 2  Claims made within an academic PLP need to be substantiated. This usually comes from linking to fuller bodies of information, such as credentials, research works, publications, citation indexes, slide shares, social media sites, videos, etc. michael_sankey
  15. 15. Heuristic 3  Visual appeal is important, and can demonstrate a level of personalisation and care. A mixture of images that reinforce key messages (not just pretty pictures) can provide an added layer of authenticity to the site. michael_sankey
  16. 16. Heuristic 4  The PLP is not a social media site, it is a repository of substantiated practice. However, being able to link visitors to sites where they can communicate, or access more nuanced information about you allows (or leaves) the PLP site to do what it is designed to do, rather than try to make it be all things to all people. michael_sankey
  17. 17. Heuristic 5  A PLP site can also be a place that brings together much of the disparate activities that are generally associated with academic practice. It can be a host to RSS and Atom feeds, such as from sites like WordPress, Blogger, Twitter etc. This leverages the principle of create once but use many times. michael_sankey
  18. 18. Heuristic 6  The work of research and publishing is fundamental to an academic. But more important is the ability to have your work read and used (cited) by others. The PLP should provide access to as much of your original work as possible, or link interested parties through to those places it can be accessed from. It should also celebrate the activities associated with that research, such as presentations and provide access to associated artifacts. michael_sankey
  19. 19. Heuristic 7  Visitors should feel welcomed to your site. This can be done by providing a welcome message, but more so by showing a side of yourself that is personable. This can be best achieved through the use of images of yourself interacting with others, and by making it clear how they can reach-out to you if need be. michael_sankey
  20. 20. Heuristic 8  Where possible, the site should be set up in such a way to allow for its information to be accessed from any common computer or smart device. This requires information to be kept concise, with linking to fuller bodies of information if necessary. It also means that native functionality of the design tool needs to be respected. Trying to hack or get around flaws in a tools functionality usually results in a sub-optimal product, that will generally not respond appropriately. michael_sankey
  21. 21. Heuristic 9  The ‘tone’ of a PLP is professional and factual, but also stands as a celebration of your professional achievements. The trick is to ensure it does not become self- congratulatory. At the end of the day it is a public document, so if the lily is gilded to much, the profile (and you by default) starts to lose credibility. michael_sankey
  22. 22. Conclusion  We have identify some key design principles that can be applied to the development of a PLP in Mahara or PebblePad  I have tried to offer an unbiased view of each system, from the users’ perspective, as each have unique structures and feature sets  We have talked through a set of 9 Design Heuristics used to construct these sites  There are potentially more – but it’s a good start   They have been applied to 2 PLPs at 2 Uni’s and have been honed over some 15 years of maintaining a significant public online profile michael_sankey